17 December 2019 :
Judge Frees Curtis Flowers on Bail After Six Trials and 23 Years in Jail. Judge Joseph Loper has released Curtis Flowers, now 49, Black, on $250,000 bail, while prosecutors decide whether to attempt to try him a seventh time for a quadruple murder he has long maintained he did not commit. Flowers was freed on December 16, 2019, after an anonymous donor posted his bond. He had spent the last 23 years in jail, most of it on death row. In July 1996, four employees of a white-owned furniture store in Winona, Mississippi were murdered. Tried in October 1997 by Fifth Circuit Court District Attorney Doug Evans before an all-white jury, Flowers — who is African American — was sentenced to death. Citing prosecutorial misconduct, the Mississippi Supreme Court overturned his conviction in December 2000. Evans tried Flowers a second time in March 2001, this time before a jury of 11 white jurors and one black juror. Just before that trial, Flowers’ parents’ house burned down. Shortly afterwards, his mother was told of a threat made by a white resident that, “If they let that n——- go, another house is going to burn.” Flowers was again convicted and sentenced to death in the second trial, but in April 2003, the Mississippi Supreme Court again reversed that conviction for prosecutorial misconduct. In February 2004, Evans tried Flowers a third time, again a jury composed of 11 white jurors and one black juror. Flowers was again sentenced to death, and the Mississippi Supreme Court overturned his conviction a third time, this time citing Evans’ discriminatory use of jury strikes against African Americans. Jurors deadlocked in Flowers’ fourth and fifth trials in November 2007 and September 2008, split along racial lines. Evans personally prosecuted both trials. The seven white jurors in the fourth trial and the nine white jurors in the fifth trial voted for death. The five black jurors in the fourth trial and three black jurors in the fifth trial voted for life. Only one black juror served on the sixth jury in 2010 — again prosecuted by Evans — and Flowers was sentenced to death a fourth time in that trial. While it was working its way through the appeals process, the Flowers case became the subject of an American Public Media podcast, APM Reports’ In the Dark. The podcast uncovered new evidence questioning Flowers’ guilt, including evidence pointing to another suspect and a taped admission from jailhouse informant Odell Hallmon — the state’s star witness who had testified that Flowers had confessed to the murders. In a portion of the podcast that Flowers’ current lawyer Rob McDuff played at the bail hearing, Hallman said: “He ain’t never tell me that. That was a lie. … Everything was all make-believe on my part.” APM also conducted a study of prosecutors’ exercise of discretionary jury strikes in 225 trials between 1992 and 2017 during Evans’ tenure as Fifth Circuit Court District Attorney. The data from more than 6,700 jurors called for jury service in the circuit court showed that Evans’ prosecutors excluded African Americans from jury service at nearly 4½ times the rate at which they struck white jurors. On June 21, 2019, a 7-2 majority of the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Flowers’ conviction, again for Evans’ racially discriminatory selection practices. Evans’ “relentless, determined effort to rid the jury of black individuals,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote, “strongly suggests that the State wanted to try Flowers before a jury with as few black jurors as possible, and ideally before an all-white jury.” In November 2019, two civil rights organizations filed a class action lawsuit against Evans in federal court seeking an injunction to end to what they described as his office’s “policy, custom, and usage of racially discriminatory jury selection.” Flowers’ current trial lawyers moved to disqualify Evans from further participation in the case and to bar a seventh trial altogether. Evans’ office has not filed a response to the defense motions and Evans did not appear at the bail hearing. Following Flowers’ release, McDuff, of the Mississippi Center for Justice, said the defense would “continue to pursue justice in this long and costly case …. At the beginning of the new year, we will move forward with our efforts to obtain a dismissal of the charges …. There is no need to continue wasting taxpayer money on the misguided prosecution,” he said.